January 15, 2009

A Tourist in my own Valley (Travelogue)

15 years down the hot & dusty lanes of Delhi and finally one of my curiosities got fulfilled recently when I coaxed my family to make a visit to my ancestral place even though as a tourist for my sake. Friends I am talking about the crown, the Switzerland of India – Kashmir. Whenever we used to get to any hill station my parents would smile in sarcasm at my appreciation of landscape saying – these are nothing but timid mountains when compared to the place where I was born in. Ever since I heard this I cherished the fantasy & the resolve that one day I shall experience the valley of my dreams.

I had heard about the horrors faced by the Hindu community – ‘Kashmiri Pandits’ during their frozen turbulences of 1990 – the year, Kashmir saw the subversive secessionist elements at their peak trying their worst best to enact ethnic cleansing of the Kashmir province & declare it a part of Pakistan. At random Pandits were marked as police informers (Kafirs) and assassinated in the name of jihad. All Hindus were ‘Indian dogs’ and were accused for not joining the so-called ‘freedom struggle - jihad’. Stones were pelted at their houses in night and many were murdered mercilessly after being chased like rats hiding in bins. When I asked what the state and centre were doing, they told me that Central govt. and Indian people knew nothing about the ground realities. The press did not care, as a minority community would not be a ‘matter of news’ (there was no NDTV then). The state had failed and was under siege of corruption, arson and dishonest politicians who encouraged the seeds of terrorism to sprout by exciting the religious sentiments of people for purpose of votes. The Pandits like frightened Pigeons and a forsaken leaderless community saw wisdom in fleeing the valley to save the lives of their loved ones and start life a fresh with only degrees in their hands in Jammu, Delhi etc. However, Kashmir didn’t become Pakistan yet nature chose misery for Pandits some of whom continue to live in deplorable camps in Jammu still hoping that one day they will return to enjoy the cool breeze under the chinar tree, they once played under, without the fear of gun.

I could see fear writ large on the face of my mother when we descended at the Srinagar airport even after 15 yrs. It became worse as the taxi that came to receive us had a big bearded driver. A pandemonium of silence prevailed since my mother was sure that a terrorist was at the wheels. I felt guilty of coaxing her to come with me for her wounds become vividly fresh again. My parents took a couple of days to feel at ease with themselves and soon the driver became a chummy. That is the time I realised that how much similar both the communities are in their general thought process which foreign forces could very conveniently plunge in to deep mistrust. Frequent statements like “it looks normal just like pre-militancy days, the difference being we are no longer a part of the province but mere tourists” became a common dialogue.

The beauty of Kashmir is something that simply puts u in trans & is difficult to write in words. You need to experience it to appreciate it. Be it the meadows of Gulmarg, the river Liddur of Pahelgam or the glaciers of Sonamarg, it is simply breathtaking. In the city of Srinagar are the ‘Shankracharya Shiva Temple, Mukdum Sahib Muslim shrine and a few km away the ‘Kheer Bhawani Temple’ bearing the evidence of the ‘once secular’ valley. Now I appreciate why no gardens or lakes can impress a Kashmiri & the evidence is here. Once u visit famous Dal Lake and the Mughal gardens of Shalimar, Nishat and Cheshma – Shahi, it renders u spell bound. The air and the water of the valley is such that I can clearly see how my mother’s grandma is still healthy and going strong in her 90’s.

When the time to leave for Delhi came, I strongly felt like sharing my experience with my friends since Kashmir is a hot topic for everyone – else Barkha Dutt or Bhumbro number or WAZWAN would not have been so famous. I know, u know so less about the complexities, the history of terrorism and the beauty of the land which belonged to India ever since the Maharaja acceded & our troops liberated it from the Pakistani Raiders. Many of you would be asking what the real truth is – who the people of Kashmir valley (minus the Pandits now of course) would like to side with? I would answer by saying that the locals there want status quo. Issue of azadi the meaning of which they themselves do not know should keep them in limelight in the world. This would fetch them crores from the Indian govt. and petrodollars from the Islamic world so that they can enjoy the both the two worlds. The indigenous terrorism now has no place. They know that it has hurt them the most as the time has gone by and the euphoria of Azadi long vanished in thin air. Even though the bombs continue to be hurled by the foreign outfits, u will find – it is only the paramilitary forces who are the target, not the tourists or civilians who die only as a collateral damage.

I was not born then but it still sends shivers down my spine when I hear stories from my family members. My brother who was 4 years old at that time is still haunted by his thoughts when he recollects hiding under the seat in our old trusted ambassador when the family was caught in a cross – fire between army and militants. For us the valley shall continue to remain a “TOURIST PLACE”.


  1. wonderful description shwetha! Kashmir with its natural beauty continues to allure evryone though insecurity prevails.

    kashmir is rightly called heaven on earth...but due to jihad and some anti-social elements, i shrug to say this ..but it has become a hell.

    one day, law and order would return to that place and hope no tourist has a fear consuming in visiting kashmir. Now, only military forces are the target for bombs..it is reasurring to know that.

    cheers to ur bro...he must be really brave to witness such an horrid incident.

    P.S: r u a kashmiri?..i know u wud be looking really beautiful then :)

  2. @aparna

    its a sad state in kshmir...yes cheers to my bro fr that...

    n yes i am a kashmiri dear...but dnt knw abt the beautiful part...

  3. tweety... u describe it so nicely...

    i hope i can visit it one day...

    its a sad state there, yes indeed... but nothing is there that cant be changed... and m sure it will once be...

    nice post dear...


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